The economy is growing, the markets are up, stocks are flirting with record highs… The good times are back for investors, so it seems, but are they really?
"To critics who warn that pumping trillions of dollars into the economy in a short period is bound to drive up inflation, today's central bankers point to stagnant consumer prices and say, 'Look, Ma, no inflation.' But this ignores the fact that when money is nominally free, strange things happen, and today record-low rates are fueling an unprecedented bout of inflation across asset prices."
The fact is that much of the globe, particularly the developed west, is up to its eyeballs in debt. Mind, you, this is based solely on official public debt numbers. If you include unfunded liabilities, then the US, most of Europe, Japan, and even China are sporting Debt to GDP ratios well over 300%.
"You said you weren’t monetizing the debt when you talked to Congress. You said the Fed was going to sell the bonds, but none of them have been sold. They’ve all been rolled over. So how are you claiming victory when you haven’t exited? You haven’t raised rates, you haven’t shrunk the balance sheet. You were wrong in the past. You didn’t see the financial crisis coming. You told us there was no housing bubble. You said subprime was contained. So you were certainly wrong then. So how do you know you’re not wrong now? Is there anything that might change your opinion and get you to rethink and maybe admit that your outlook is wrong?"
What is extremely clear is that there is something amiss with the statistical headline employment and economic data. While there are indeed pockets of improvement, which should be expected following a recessionary contraction, there is a lack of widespread recovery. That sentiment is clearly reflected in every major poll of American's over the last year. What is important is that there is a clear disconnect between the financial markets, statistical economic headlines, and the reality of the vast majority of American consumers. So, riddle me this - what happens when that disconnect is eventually resolved?
Bull markets don’t end all at once. Generally a few egregiously-overvalued sectors blow up first and are dismissed by most observers as aberrations. Instead, they turn out to be a sign of things to come. In the previous decade’s bubble it was subprime housing that led the way, while being initially characterized by experts as too small to matter. Click here for Ben Bernanke’s ongoing attempts to convince the world to relax and ignore housing’s problems. This time around we of course won’t know until after the fact which sector is the canary in the coal mine. But these epic fails in the bubbly social media/online marketplace region of tech certainly look like viable candidates.
Why would financial firms pay so much for blogger Ben Bernanke’s thoughts? Aside from the marketing benefits we noted, there is one good reason. In essence, you’d want to know what Bernanke would think if he were wrong or ill-informed about some important economic issue. That is something money managers understand in a way that academics and policymakers do not, for being wrong – and knowing what to do next – is a critical skill for the professional. Getting the most information from Bernanke, either in a one-on-one or just reading his work online, boils down to just two questions: “What doesn’t he know” and “What is he sure of that is actually wrong?”
Threatened with deflation, the authorities will want to turn the tide in the worst possible way. What’s the worst way to stop deflation? With hyperinflation. Yes, we may suffer a year or two more of sluggish growth... or even deflation. Stocks will crash and people will be desperate for paper dollars. But sooner or later, the feds will find their feet and lose their heads. Most likely, the credit-drenched world of 2015 will end... not in a whimper of deflation, but in a bang. Hyperinflation will bring the long depression to a dramatic close long before a quarter of a century has passed.
The oddest couple out there? Probably.
There is a practical benefit to shifting our attention away from the stock market. Any market that can yo-yo 10% within a day for no apparent reason, or undergo multiple booms and busts in a 20 year period should not be given too much credibility. The wealth-effect on the way up always turns into the wealth-destruction effect on the way down.
Ben Bernanke’s skin is as thin, apparently, as is his comprehension of honest economics. The emphasis is on the “honest” part because he is a fount of the kind of Keynesian drivel that passes for economics in the financially deformed world that the Bernank did so much to bring about.
For the first time in 4 years, Appaloosa Management's David Tepper is not the highest-earning hedge fund manager in the world. Plunging from No.1 to tied-for-11th (with a mere $400 million earned last year) Tepper appears to have suddenly found investing difficult now that The Fed has stopped printing money (up just 2.2%). What is more ironic, perhaps, is that the other alleged beneficiary of Fed largesse (and recent hirer or blogger Ben Bernanke) - Citadel tops the list with Ken Griffin making $1.3 billion last year.
The world economy is in the grips of a dangerous delusion. As the great boom that began in the 1990s gave way to an even greater bust, policymakers resorted to the timeworn tricks of financial engineering in an effort to recapture the magic. In doing so, they turned an unbalanced global economy into the Petri dish of the greatest experiment in the modern history of economic policy. They were convinced that it was a controlled experiment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It seems yet another hero of the recent cyclical bull market, resp. echo bubble, may be in danger of falling from grace. This has already happened to his predecessor Alan Greenspan, who has been gradually demoted from “Maestro” to “irresponsible bubble blower”. In this sense the somewhat less praise-laden verdicts that are lately emerging with respect to Ben Bernanke could be seen as an early warning sign.